The Boy with the Star Tattoo: A Novel

Image of The Boy with the Star Tattoo: A Novel
Release Date: 
January 30, 2024
William Morrow Paperbacks
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Based on the saga of the Jews emerging from the Holocaust and their determination to inhabit a land to call their own, The Boy with the Star Tattoo by Talia Carner is an epic retelling of many stories, based in historical events from 1940 through 1969. At the date of publication in 2024, when the tragedies of strife in Palestine and Israel are top of the news every day, this novel details and deconstructs some of the political, cultural and personal complexity inherent in the occupation of Palestine by the Jews.

The story brings together the ordinary people disrupted by war and hatred and driven by a belief in their ultimate worthiness as a culture. There are so many sides to every situation, each one complex, each one peppered with the details of real life, the hopes and dreams of everyday people. The Boy with the Star Tattoo recreates the lives of ordinary citizens alive during the war, who had to survive in spite of the Holocaust, in spite of the Nazi occupation of France, and who were determined to create a safe haven to live out their lives.

Beginning her tale in October 1946, Carner sets the reader aboard ship in the Mediterranean Sea, just outside of Eretz Israel, the land of Israel. In this prologue, a young woman named Judith holds an eight-year-old girl on her lap in a cloud of anxiety as the refugees (including 12 children), collectively hold their breath in the blackness of the night. In a hostile political situation that threatens them with discovery, deportation back to Europe, or incarceration by the British, the ship’s passengers are part of risky plan to populate the land promised to them after World War I by the League of Nations, and to create a safe haven for the war’s Jewish orphans.

The story takes place in two different time periods, the first in the Loire Valley at the end of the war when occupied France was under the thumb of the Nazis. In 1940, the Vichy Government cooperated with the occupiers to rout out all Jews and send them to camps. Against this backdrop of chaos and betrayal, a young Christian woman named Claudette Pelletier falls in love with a Jewish man who has taken refuge at the chateau where she works as a seamstress.

She becomes pregnant with their child, but he must flee to escape the round-up of Jews. When the Nazis invade the free zone after the birth of their child, Claudette makes a heartbreaking choice to leave her baby in care of his nursemaid. As the story unfolds, the reader becomes aware that this child, whose mother has tattooed his foot in homage to his Jewish father, is rescued by a Youth Aliyah agent searching for Jewish orphans to connect them with the culture of their lost relatives post war.

The second time period is 1968 in Tel Aviv. Israeli naval officer Daniel Yarden recruits Sharon Bloomenthal for a secret naval operation in Cherbourg, France. Grieving the death of her husband in a recently downed Israeli submarine, Sharon accepts the challenge to work with Daniel because his past in Youth Aliyah could lead her to her own late mother.

With this, the reader is off and running to follow the clues, dropped like crumbs in Sharon’s path. Person by person, their common history broken by the war, by famine, by displacement, by events outside their control, the narrative follows Sharon’s adventures as an undercover agent for the Israeli navy and her journey into the recent past, as she uncovers details of Danny’s early life, leading to his adoption and childhood in a kibbutz in Israel. In following the lives of her characters, the author reveals the cultural intention, the hopes and dreams of European Jews in the 30 years from 1940 to 1970.

The complex historical novel is full of details that have been garnered by immersion into and study of the events of the era. The flow of history is summarized in conversations between myriad characters—conversations that lay out the details of the political and cultural situations of the French, the Underground, the fleeing refugees, the brutality of and the confiscation of artwork and property by the Nazis, the murdering and pillaging of estates by the occupiers. The Jews and Christians, and how they perceive and are perceived and treated by their neighbors. Every story is rooted firmly in the fascinating history of the region and is pieced together by Sharon as she becomes determined to uncover Danny’s origins and work as an undercover agent in cooperation with the Israeli navy.

Sharon’s dogged searching for clues to Danny’s family and her revelation about his origin give rise to themes that resonate under the layer of action and history and that tie the novel together.

At the end, Sharon, whom the reader has grown to love and admire is here: “It all comes down to belonging, belonging to something larger than herself. For some people it’s belonging to a shared faith; for others, a shared ideology. For some it is a matter of love; for others, a matter of family.”

The novel leads up to a nail biting emotional and political climax parallel with the real events that became the international incident called The Cherbourg Project. The suspense of the coordinated, clandestine situation in plain sight becomes palpable as the author ties up the many strings in the novel’s plot. An important and emotionally full retelling of history with a fictional imagining through the lenses of its essential characters.

Talia Carner has done it again. This book is a tour de force! Of research, of story, of the history of a people.